In an earlier article, I mentioned how Netflix’s “Death Note” is a bad adaptation of its source material. This was unfair because at the time I hadn’t actually seen the American adaptation. So now that I have, I’ve decided to give it the true article that it truly deserves.
It was even worse than I thought.
I don’t need to elaborate any more than that really. I had set incredibly low expectations, yet somehow this movie has gone below that. It was so far beneath my lowest expectations that I’m worried it will pierce the core of the earth.
I absolutely hated having to sit through this film. Even with the help of some friends and some liquid courage, we still had to stop the film several times to ask ourselves if it was really worth continuing to watch. Everything that made people love the original “Death Note” was not only missing, but replaced by its polar opposite in a way that seemed to slap the original fans in the face. I could almost excuse this if it was at least well done, even if it lacked a heart, but no, this film just had to be comprised of the most generic shots, overused sound effect and stale acting that I have seen in years.
While watching this film, there was nothing to distract me from just how much it was butchering the source material. One of the most well-known pieces of Japanese media, loved by edgy teenagers for over a decade, was dragged through the mud and beaten to a pulp only to be covered in makeup in an attempt to hide how hideous it had become. I think this is most evident in our protagonist, Light.
In the original, Light Yagami is an absolute sociopath with a god complex who shows others exactly what he wants them to see. He is a genius who calculates every little thing in his life, while looking down on all other humans as lesser beings. No one knows that though, because in everyone else’s eyes he is absolutely perfect — both socially and mentally. He loves having others look up to him, and it only fuels his god complex even more than it already was.
Light Turner, the adaptation’s protagonist, is a whiney edge lord who isn’t really shown to have a motive for killing criminals — other than the one that killed his mother. Like seriously, there is absolutely no reason shown in either his life or his personality that explains why he takes up a light genocide against the criminals of the world. He’s never shown to be particularly good at anything and is an absolutely unlikable character — somehow being less likable than the original’s literal psychopath.
The other characters don’t fare any better though.
Ryuk is a CGI monstrosity, but I can’t hate him based solely on the fact that he was voiced by Willem Dafoe. They also add a love interest for Light in a cheerleader named Mia. You can tell Mia is a totally realistic character who is so relatable because she is smoking in the middle of cheerleading practice. Apparently, she existed to split Light’s characteristics into two separate people, but what really happened is that they missed the main essence of the original character and left us with an edgy dude and a psychotic emo.
The character that hurts me the most is their depiction of L. See, in the original, L was just plain weird. He had a complete lack of knowledge of social norms, and he often did eccentric things just because he wanted to. In the adaptation, he does sit weird sometimes, but they try to explain away his love of candy by saying that it is somehow fueling his super-brain. It doesn’t help that instead of him being a natural enigma that the government attempts to re-create, he is just part of the group that was based on him in the original.
I think another one of this movie’s biggest problems is its length. The original is a sprawling, lengthy series that used dead space to build tension in seemingly mundane situations. By having to condense this lengthy narrative into only 90 minutes, it means they have to throw out all of the character-building and tense moments from the original. What we are left with is a film that just feels rushed in its pacing. It feels like an action movie instead of a dramatic thriller, like it should. It’s a story of psychology and planning 10 steps ahead, not a story about good guy chasing bad guy with gun.
I think the flaws can first be seen as early as the pitch of this movie. While trying to get the film greenlit, the director said the worst possible words you can say for an anime adaptation: “I want to westernize the story so that it would be relatable to an American audience.” Almost every work that has been approached with this mindset completely misses the point of the original work and is usually just wanting to make a cash grab.
That’s not an all-encompassing umbrella, because I’m sure there are some out there with good intentions, but saying that the themes need to be westernized means it should probably just be a new work unconnected to the original.
The best adaptations have always been works that strive to re-tell the themes and soul of a story, even if certain things need to be changed to make it more relatable. As long as the creator of the adaptation has a true understanding of the heart and soul of the original work, you can be sure that the adaptation will at least be better than this mindless film.
I rate movie from -10 to 10, with negative being so bad it’s good. This movie is a -3, only because I at least had some moments where I was able to laugh at how badly they changed everything. I really wouldn’t recommend this film — just go watch the anime or read the manga; those are a much better experience overall.
This week I want to shout out localization teams, whose job it is to not only translate the literal words of foreign works, but also translate the meaning and themes at the same time. Phrases and sayings don’t cross borders very well, so it takes individuals with a great understanding of both languages and cultures to successfully localize a work. A good localizing team means a better experience for the audience.
This article was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon’s Bad Movie Showcase.
Editing done by Evan Newell